Halloween, 2018, j Johnson Smith

Epicurean Epitaph                                                       jJohnson Smith

They said I’d die of fever, overheating.

I died of ‘Masterchef’,  overeating.

……………………………………….

 

Harvest-time.

The Reaper came and with a grin

asked how much time I’d like to borrow.

I thought awhile then looked at him

and requested to die tomorrow.

He stepped back into shadow and

waved his sickled hand,

asked me politely to follow

to his pleasant Netherland.

When I declined he bowed and said

he could never come tomorrow

but would be my friend and dine with me

and contemplate our sorrows.

 

Together we sit, he and I,

amongst the dead and dying.

He no longer talks but only grins

and I wait for tomorrow.

…………………………

Wrong words in the wrong place.

When I said, “I’d lost my mind”.

you took it so literally!    I didn’t mean to cause

that panic over such a little thing.

Because it really was just a passing phase.

A little phrase that covers many things

of dos or donts  or maybe-shouldn’t-haves

and never-do-agains.       From which I’ve  learned

(or hope I have) to re-think ways of saying; badly;

that I am madly in love with you.

 

………      Just loosen the buckles a little,

Let my arms relax, I feel like a skittle in this padded room;

though nice and plump it looks, ………

Reminding me of you; when we kissed beneath that moon.

When the black backed night had gone and I paraded myself

in the garden, calling your name in such memorable verse.

When I vowed, or something worse, to follow you to the end of the Earth.

………. Or maybe I didn’t.  It was someone else.  Not me….

This collar is tight…….

And when love blinds you to the world, does it have the right

to insist you wear this suit?  A jacket so tight that it binds your heart

and barely leaves your mind free to wander.  To wander in a storm

that chews the words and spits them out against your best intention?

 

tagged under: seasons

Advertisements

Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.

 

April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.

 

April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.

 

A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.

 

Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.

 

April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.

 

I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.

 

A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.

 

 

 

Three Poems by Jean Whitfield

From    Moments,   Selected poems of Jean Whitfield

Permission to reprint poems kindly given by Bakery Press.

It is so tempting to lift every poem in sequence from this ‘collected works’ as they all deserve a wider audience.   Sadly, I am limited in number and space per ‘post’ so have kept with my ‘Three Poems’ format, sometimes with additional poems, maybe with other poets ( a relaxed format, admittedly).

This is the first of several from Jean Whitfield over time.

It is important that any poem can be read as an independent piece even when collections are ‘themed’ in some way.  As a complete collection ‘Moments’ is unlikely to be bettered.  Themes will always exist in a poet’s poems but a serial poem or one extensive like a ‘saga’  will have ‘extractions’ to find a place in an anthology or post such as this.

I always try to include complete poems but do quote extracts if fitting.

Jean Whitfield’s poetry has a tone of its own. I hope this and future posts of her work will secure her place.

………………….

Bird

Wind in their bones

birds see-saw the air

a mass of moving ciphers

altogether on the sky.

 

Between them grim-beaked

and desperate against the air

and all their movement

heads a loner

going the other way.

………………………

 

Tor Chantry                                 

 

Their feet were bleeding, torn,

their hands wound like rope

in the brown shrouds they wore.

 

Raw wind shred voices

Like bird’s wings

Above bare hills

where they walked

each hooded man

counting sins.

 

Granite muscled the land

thin soil lay a fine skin

where the line

of broken shards veined.

 

Five miles they trod

thorn and broom

to the chantry, hungering.

Blood flecked rocks they climbed

bracelets of blood:

a temporary offering.

 

And the buzzard for its survival

scanned barren moors, homes in.

Took the yellowest, limp-necked lamb

greased with its cleansing

outside the Chantry door.

……………..

 

Winter Yard                                      

First a solid river that swans slapped

warming ice with rapid feet

a courtyard with a bench, an unlit lamp

and long thin runnels between the polished cobbles

which silent water painted grey

and lay there dark with buildings.

 

Then the sun shone suddenly

and balconies broadcast wrought iron tendrils

over frozen water become sprinkled heaps of gemstones

 

and a long black window opened

for a woman’s arm to put out a pot of flowers

to spread the place with red and gold.

…………………..

 

Three different ‘wintry’ scenes.

Bird:      Brief, simple observation of a scene in this poem.    Or, looking at the word  ‘ciphers’   and then  ‘grim-beaked’  we can see an alternative meaning as the poem’s last lines of  ‘heads a loner/ going the other way’     This moves it into the personal world of the author but still further into the wider world of the ‘loner’, be they in the arts or by temperament.  With this change of meaning the poem could well sink into a bleakness, especially because of the word ‘desparate’ but that image is perhaps held at bay by the use of ‘grim-beaked’.   For me ‘grim-beaked’ is a sign of inner strength, determination and courage to proceed.  Right or wrong in this poem does not come into it.  Against the crowd?  So be it.

 

Tor Chantry:        Chantrya chapel or altar endowed for the chanting of masses for the founder’s soul   (source: Longman Concise Engl Dict.)

Longer, darker, with rhymes and half-rhymes scattered through.  The last verse taking you abruptly away from the human effort of survival to the real world of survival.   Throughout the poem it is the landscape that has priority.  In the last verse you can put the emphasis on ‘its’  in: ‘for its survival’ and the men and their toil are literally out of the picture, forgotten.    More can be threaded out of this poem, as in many a good poet’s work.

 

Winter Yard:      The first verse offers delightful image of swans ‘warming ice with rapid feet’.  You can see them slipping and trying to progress as their webbed feet fail to take hold and slide away from them ever faster. The next few lines describe acutely the place and view.

The middle verse is three lines, only one sentence and perhaps a little difficult to read first time around but the change of tempo and the compressed images capture that very moment of a fresh view of a scene when the sun flashes on it.

Last verse, linking with the balcony (in my mind), maybe below or on a level with it.   The ‘black’ window actually contrasts positively with the grey and ice previously which flows into the softness and color of the final two lines.

All unrhymed; little punctuation so the reader can find their own pauses and a beautiful little poem.

tag as: seasons   and winter

 

 

The New Year by Edward Thomas

The New Year

He was the one man I met up in the woods

That stormy New Year’s morning; and at first sight,

Fifty yards off, I could not tell how much

Of the strange tripod was a man.  His body,

Bowed horizontal, was supported equally

By legs at one end, by a rake at the other:

Thus he rested, far less like a man than

His wheel-barrow in profile was like a pig.

But when I saw it was an old man bent,

At the same moment came into my mind

The games at which boys bend thus, High-Cockalorum,

Or Fly-the-garter, and Leap-frog.  At the sound

Of footsteps he began to straighten himself;

His head rolled under his cape like a tortoise’s;

He took an unlit pipe out of his mouth

Politely ere I wished him “A Happy New Year,”

And with his head cast upward sideways

Muttered –

So far as I could hear through the tree’s roar –

“Happy New Year, and may it come fastish, too,”

While I strode by and he turned to raking leaves.

Churlish of me; who am I to have a problem with line 8?   I do so wish to put  commas  , between  His wheel-barrow , in profile,  was like a pig    but I daren’t!!   Or maybe the word ‘he’  between profile and was…….    I have to continue to struggle with it…………I know it follows the ‘he’ in previous line.   I just hope it is a missing misprint.  Oh the simple trials of reading and editing!

Anyway, if anyone is really reading this:   Happy New Year!

 

 

also tagged as seasons

A Poor Poet’s Christmas

 

A Poor Poet’s Christmas         (with apologies to Clare and Bloomfield)

 

We sit around the fireside and call out merry oaths

Until there come the players in, plucking music from their throats.

With fiddles, horns and pipes they join in olden song

Of maids and lords and stable-lads, of all their rights and wrongs

Which to this day warn youth and child that behind each golden door

May lie a heart as black or red as beats inside the poor’.

 

The sack and beer are passed around and tatties and pudding too

Until our voices burst the door and raucous is the night.

‘Til cows and chucks bemoan the light that brakes their stalls

And e’en the moon forestalls the dawn to keep the sight

Of merry players and happy fools

Take rest from blistering tools

On this our Christmas night.

 

JJS

 

also tagged as  seasons

Christmas: Excerpt from ‘The Shepherds Calender’

excerpt from The Shepherds Calender,      John Clare 1793 – 1864

 

Christmas is come, and every hearth

Makes room to give him welcome now.

E’en want will dry its tears in mirth

And crown him wi’ a holly bough,

Though tramping ‘neath a winter sky

O’er snow track paths and rimy stiles;

The huswife sets her spinning by

And bids him welcome wi’ her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before

And windows stuck wi’ evergreens,

The snow is bosomed from the door

And comfort crowns the cottage scenes,

Gilt holly wi’ its thorny pricks

And yew and box wi’ berries small,

These deck the unused candlesticks

And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbours resume their annual cheer,

Wishing wi’ smiles and spirits high

Glad Christmas and a happy year

To every morning passer-by,John Clare lifesize statue at his cottage in Helpston

Milk maids their Christmas journeys go

Accompanied wi’ favoured swain,

And children pace the crumping snow

To taste their granny’s cake again.

 

also tagged as  seasons

 

 

 

Christmas 2017

The Gypsy                           Edward Thomas

A fortnight before Christmas gypsies were everywhere:

Vans were drawn up on wastes, women trailed to the fair.

“My gentleman,” said one, “You’ve got a lucky face.”

“And you’ve a luckier one.” I thought, “if such a grace

And impudence in rags are lucky.” “Give a penny

For the poor baby’s sake.”  “Indeed I have not any

Unless you can give change for a sovereign, my dear.”

“Then just half a pipeful of tobacco can you spare?”

I gave it.  With that much victory she laughed content.

I should have given more, but off and away she went

With her baby and her pink sham flowers to rejoin

The rest before I could translate to its proper coin

Gratitude for her grace.  And I paid nothing then,

As I pay nothing now with the dipping of my pen

For her brother’s music when he drummed the tambourine

And stamped his feet, which made the workmen passing grin,

While his mouth-organ changed to a rascally Bacchanal dance

“Over the hills and far away.”  This and his glance

Outlasted all the fair, farmer and auctioneer,

Cheap-jack, balloon-man, drover with crooked stick, and steer,

Pig, turkey, goose and duck, Christmas Corpses to be.

Not even the kneeling ox had eyes like Romany.

That night he peopled for me the hollow wooded land,

More dark and wild than stormiest heavens, that I

searched and scanned

Like a ghost new-arrived.  The gradations of the dark

Were like an underworld of death, but for the spark

In the Gypsy boy’s black eyes as he played and stamped his tune,

“Over the hills and far away,” and a crescent moon.

………………………….

Mistletoe                   Walter De La Mare

Sitting under the mistletoe

(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),

One last candle burning low,

All the sleepy dancers gone,

Just one candle burning on,

Shadows lurking everywhere:

Some one came, and kissed me there.

 

Tired I was; my head would go

Nodding under the mistletoe

(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),

No footsteps came, no voice, but only,

Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,

Stooped in the still and shadowy air

Lips unseen – and kissed me there.

 

……………………………………

also tagged as  seasons